WIPO Election: Who Will Run To Be The Next Director General?

The decision is a year away, but there has been buzz for months around who might run in the election to be the next director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization. Intellectual Property Watch shares with you some of the names we’ve heard in the early going, completely unofficially and in no way intended to be exhaustive.

WIPO headquarters in Geneva

WIPO will elect a new director general in 2020.

The first thing to know is that there seems to be an understanding, at least among the interested regions themselves, that the next director will come from Latin America or the Asia-Pacific. This is despite the fact that WIPO has no formal geographical rotation in its top leadership. Three of WIPO’s four past directors, including the current one, Francis Gurry of Australia, have come from the WIPO geographical group made up of developed countries. The fourth came from Africa. It should be added that a few people posed the question of whether Central or Eastern Europe might have a candidate come forward.

WIPO did not respond to a request by press time, but it does not appear that there is a timeline set up yet for the 2020 election. Based on the past, it seems likely that candidates will start being made official in fall of 2019, with the election in spring of 2020. Note that none of the people listed in this article confirmed their intention to run for director general.

Intellectual Property Watch detailed past procedures and the election process from last time around in 2014 in this article (IPW, WIPO, 16 October 2017). There has been vying for more regional representation on the WIPO Coordination Committee, which makes the selection of director general and passes it on to the full membership for final approval. This Intellectual Property Watch article from the October 2018 annual General Assembly details that debate (IPW, WIPO, 10 October 2018).

A reasonable place to look for potential candidates is the WIPO senior management team, which can be seen here, and indeed several have been regularly mentioned and have not outright denied it.

Meanwhile, the WIPO director general is limited to two 6-year terms by a decision of member states. But there is a question as to whether a sufficient number of the member states have ratified that decision. This, and the usual buzz around WIPO (like any UN agency), has led to unsubstantiated rumours that Gurry, who took over in 2008, might be considering seeking to stay on for a couple more years. No reason has been given as to why a couple of years would be the plan, and Gurry himself has given no indication, public or otherwise (according to sources), that he has any intention of staying on.

Latin America

So far, chatter and signals have indicated a few candidates from the region, including from Argentina, Chile, and Mexico. Brazil, whose candidate narrowly missed winning the election by one vote in 2008, is unlikely to vie for WIPO this time around since in the intervening time it has taken the top spot at the neighbouring World Trade Organization, according to sources.

From Mexico, Miguel Ángel Margáin, the now-former director general of the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI), was mentioned as a possible candidate around the time of the October 2018 annual WIPO General Assembly.

In Chile, a top name mentioned is current WIPO Deputy Director General Mario Matus, responsible for the Development Sector, a veteran trade negotiator and former ambassador in Geneva who held leadership positions at the World Trade Organization.

Also from Chile, some have mentioned in the conversation that Maximiliano Santa Cruz recently completed his terms as director of the Chilean IP office and is well known to the WIPO community, having been a negotiator in Geneva for years and having chaired a key patent committee at WIPO some years ago.

Chile tends to be viewed as having a crossover role between developing and developed countries, which could help its cause.

However, Chile’s chance to head WIPO might now be affected by the fact that Michelle Bachelet, the former President of Chile, took over in September 2018 as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which neighbours WIPO in Geneva.

Meanwhile, a seemingly new arrival on the whisper circuit is Dámaso Pardo of Argentina. Pardo is the head of Argentina’s Instituto Nacional de la Propiedad Industrial (INPI) and current chair of the important WIPO Standing Committee on the Law of Patents (SCP).

It might possibly be considered that Argentina also has the head of a UN agency in Geneva. Lelio Marmora has been Executive Director of UNITAID since 2014.


From Asia, the countries that are commonly mentioned in speculation are Singapore, China, and India. Note that some have mentioned that Gurry, from Australia, could be classified as hailing from the Asia-Pacific region. But technically, Australia groups itself outside of the region, with the other developed countries (including Japan) in the so-called Group B.

From Singapore, Daren Tang Heng Shim, the head of the Singapore IP Office and chair of the WIPO Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR). Tang has been active and visible, engaging with member states, leading trainings, and publishing articles. Like Chile, some indicated that Singapore could be seen as playing a kind of crossover role between developed and developing countries.

From China, WIPO Deputy Director General Wang Binyang, who heads the Brands and Designs Sector, has been rumoured to be possible. Wang is the highest ranking Chinese official ever at WIPO, and could be poised to climb even higher.

From India, a long-mentioned possible successor to Gurry is Naresh Prasad, his chief of staff. Prasad distinguished himself some years ago as an effective negotiator at WIPO for India, and then joined WIPO.

In sum, there is a long way to go and it is possible that none of these names will appear and many others not mentioned may surface in the months ahead. But one thing is clear, election season has arrived at WIPO.

Image Credits: Catherine Saez

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